Is the Tea Party Really that Extreme?

Subconscious political bias, the underlying personal association with a political party due to desires to fit assumed party stereotypes, is more prevalent in America today than subconscious racism, according to Sean Westwood, a Stanford PhD candidate in Political Communication. The simplistic connection with a political party and shallow understanding of the two party system allows more and more people to self-associate with a political party instead of becoming informed to vote. This association with a political party has become an identity trait for many voters, allowing a shallow understanding of political ideas which leads many people to choose political leaders who only strive to enact Republican or Democratic agendas while forcefully dismissing any smaller parties or opinions, no matter how popular they may be.

The libertarian-leaning Tea Party is one example of this. While many people associate the Tea Party with extremists, the Tea Party truly embodies a message that is well-liked and supported by many individuals. The idea of libertarianism, or sticking with more fiscally conservative government policies (often aligning more strongly with Hayekian economics), is becoming more and more popular, with 10-20% of the state election votes going to the libertarians. It is becoming common in society to identify as fiscally conservative and socially liberal. This stronghold is only the beginning of a revolution.

The Tea Party represents a unique idea that is continuing to grow both more popular and more mainstream: limiting government is the solution to existing and potential political conflicts. While the party has historically received a lot of disdain in America, it is also gaining members as increasing numbers of youths identify with conservative fiscal policies.

The Tea Party was resurrected in 2009 to as a reference to the Boston Tea Party of 1773. The party works to align itself with the true beginnings of the American spirit by remaining “We The People.” Its main agenda revolves around retaining a strong militia, protecting the second amendment, balancing and maintaining a national budget, reducing taxes and maintaining family, morals and people at the core of the government. It is clear why these ideas are gaining popularity—they represent what is unique and traditionally patriotic about the United States. The flames of these patriotic principles are also fanned by the rising seventeen trillion dollar debt. The idea of a government run by the people instead of politics is understandably enticing to many. The Tea Party should work to market these concepts and unify a solid base of fiscal conservatives.

While there is potential to create the momentum for a mass movement, the Tea Party has a lot of change to make if they are going to have a meaningful national impact. Firstly, it remains polarizing: although it is gaining popularity, the Tea Party also gathers widespread criticism, especially from the media. In fact, Quinnipiac University of Connecticut reported on November 13th that 47% of people surveyed disliked the Tea Party. A lot of this negativity came from media coverage of events surrounding the government shutdown and the Republican Party.

Currently, the Tea Party members of congress identify as Republicans, yet the Tea Party is working on its own separate agenda which drives a wedge through the Republican Party. During the government shutdown, the Tea Party advocated a refusal to pass the funding bill that would activate the Affordable Care Act. While many Republicans were focused on compromise with Democrats or their own reelection prospects, Tea Party members were highly motivated to generate a shutdown in the continuing fight against Obamacare and deficit spending. The results of this event were not favorable to either the Tea Party or the Republicans: a study by CBS found that only 18% of the country approve of the job of the Republicans in Congress, which dropped from 23% before the shutdown, and 14% view the Tea Party well, compared to 18% before the shutdown.

While the Republicans seem to back down from any challenge resulting in poor media, it is somewhat inspiring to see the Tea Party stick to its objectives and fight for something, even if it means losing popularity. It seems like the true differences between the Republicans and the Tea Party, and what’s splitting Republicans down the middle, is the Republicans’ focus on reelection and the Tea Party’s desire to truly minimize government and actually hold the government accountable.

The Tea Party, while it is fighting for an inspiring message, also has a lot of logistical problems holding it back. First, the party is barely scraping together money while the Democrats and Republicans are comparatively swimming in donations. Second, the Tea Party has a lot of bad press. Third, the organization is still in the relatively unorganized and non-hierarchical stage typical of grassroots movements (somewhat resembling the Republican effort in the 2012 election).

In the future, it is possible that the Tea Party could achieve ultimate success or they could end in flames, bringing the Republican Party with them. If the Tea Party continues in its strategy to defeat Republicans in elections and within Congress, than the party is focusing on the wrong battles. The Tea Party needs to gain popular support with a focus on fighting the real enemies of limited government: the Democratic Party.

It is clear that the Tea Party doesn’t intend to give up, nor should they. While most people do view them as extremists, the Tea Party embodies an idea centered on a government that strictly works for the people. This idea inspires a surprisingly uncontroversial agenda: a balanced budget, fiscal responsibility and a government of the people. The Tea Party is uniquely equipped to fight for these goals with a commitment to ideology over approval ratings, a rare phenomenon in a Congress willing to compromise in order to save face.

For Tea Party movement to succeed, they will need continued grassroots support and extensive press to inform and unify a fiscally conservative member base. A responsible government, budget cuts, and the Tea Party goals are not out of reach, especially with the surging backlash against Obamacare.
In the intertwined and gridlocked political landscape of America today, the Tea Party offers us our best hope of grasping liberty with outstretched hands.

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